Saturday, 10 October 2009

A Library

A library is a unique location and despite the numerous visits I've made to various libraries across Asia the environment of one never ceases to inspire in me a sense of wonder.

Of all the fixtures in a library, the people are the most interesting. If on takes time to look around, the variety of people will immediately catch his/her attention. They range from young studious students to aged venerable looking octogenarians all wearing expressions of great seriousness and concentration. They roam down aisles enclosed on either side by towering bookshelves seemingly undaunted by the horrendous volume of information that surrounded them.

The most striking feature of all is the ease with which these people maintain an almost deafening silence. Even those who are naturally lively and boisterous seem to adopt the demeanor of a distinguished scholar upon entering a library. They show not the slightest indication of suppressing large volumes of their youthful energy.

Observing people who are trying to communicate within the exquisitely peaceful environment of a library is truly a fascinating experience. Such people can be seen huddled closely around some small circular table trying to read each others lips or whispering in hushed tones. There are also people who are so adept at the art of silent communication that they seemed to be able to convey paragraphs of information with a series of curt nods and swift, jerky hand gestures; rendering all spoken languages useless. It is fortunate that they master these skills quickly for making a noise in the library - even a small one - is an experience that embarrassing beyond what words can describe. I once saw a 25 year old college student perhaps alien to the strict rules imposed inside a library make this unfortunate mistake. The noise which was a spoken word just above a whisper made everyone in the vicinity glare at the poor soul for several seconds. It is a wonder that he did not melt into a puddle at that very instant.

The person who is the most interesting to watch of course is the head librarian. He sits on his wooden throne perusing some obscure text with a severe, stern expression worn so often that it was carved on his face like the smile on Mona Lisa's face. Occasionally he shifts in his position perhaps to extract another sheaf of papers from the gargantuan piles surrounding him or to adjust the pair of spectacles perched firmly and almost comically on his crooked nose. The overall effect is rather unnerving.

Observing human behaviour is always interesting, but observing how even the most boisterous and vibrant of people can so abruptly transform into such serious and silent characters is an experience that is both singular and indelible. Even if one is visits a library for the thousandth time, he will not be able to resist spending at least a quarter of an hour simply observing the people around him.
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